With the National Hunt season well and truly underway it is time to have a tentative look at next year’s Grand National and pick out some possible candidates for the Aintree marathon.
As the biggest fans of Merseyside’s historic steeplechase will tell you “Not all roads lead to Cheltenham, some of them go to Liverpool too!”
Here are the profiles of five horses that could be lining up at Aintree next April.
Vicente (current odds 33/1)
The Paul Nicholls trained Vicente would arrive at Aintree as a dual-winner of the Scottish Grand National having been victorious in both 2016 and 2017.
Looking back at his personal 2016/17 season, Sam Twiston-Davies clearly rates Vicente highly saying: "I think Vicente would be very high up there for me, coming back to win the Scottish National. We had a bit of an up and down day and him winning the Scottish National for a second time was massive.”
Vicente’s participation in last year’s Grand National was short-lived as the 16/1 chance fell at the first fence whilst sitting in mid-division.
Undeterred, Nicholas sent the eight-year-old gelding to Ayr a fortnight later and he won the Scottish version in a thrilling finish over the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained Cogry.
"Paul had him primed for the National and that didn't go to plan, but it has worked out great," said Twiston-Davies.
"The boss has turned it around. He is one of the best trainers in the country. Fair play to Vicente. He's a very brave horse, he's tried very hard and saved my day."
Vicente was the first back-to-back winner of the Scottish Grand National since Androma in 1985.
Given the fact that solid Scottish Grand National form has played out well at Aintree in subsequent seasons, Vicente must be a leading fancy for the Grand National 2018, even at this early stage.
Blaklion (current odds 25/1)
Blaklion was favourite for the race twelve months ago and after taking up the running at the third-last fence looked very much like he would win the race before emptying out on the run-in only to finish fourth.
“I had thought we had won it,” said Twiston-Davies, successful with Earth Summit (1998) and Bindaree (2002). “He was travelling so well and jumped lovely.
"We were just cantering and the horse took Noel (Fehily) to the front and everything looked good but we didn't win.
"But where else do you get £44,000 for finishing fourth?
According to Nigel Twiston-Davies, Blaklion will be plotted along a similar route to last year and he will be hoping that the eight-year-old can improve upon his honourable fourth in 2017.
Blaklion showed his appetite for a dogged fight to the finish is very much still there when he narrowly went down to stablemate Bristol De Mai in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby.
Twiston-Davies said after the race “Blaklion pleased me. He was getting 6lb so the handicapper shouldn’t be putting him up.
“That should leave him spot-on for the Becher Chase.”
If Blaklion puts in a stellar performance in the Becher Chase on December 9th, you can certainly expect a few points being trimmed off his current odds of 25/1.
Vieux Lion Rouge (current odds 40/1)
Vieux Lion Rouge produced a creditable performance to finish fourth in an eventful renewal of the Charlie Hall Chase and it is now all-systems-go to try to repeat back-to-back wins in the Becher Chase at Aintree according to Pond House.
A good performance in the Becher Chase will probably persuade connections to have another crack at the Grand National in which he finished in sixth place in 2017.
The Caroline Tisdall and John Gent owned eight-year-old was made favourite for the National last year after he backed up his Becher Chase win with victory in the Haydock Grand National Trial.
Drying ground conditions on the day could be attributed to Vieux Lion Rouge’s slightly disappointing showing and there is a suspicion he is at his best with a little more juice in the ground.
If he gets his optimum conditions next April then Vieux Lion Rouge is certainly no 40/1 shot.
Cause Of Causes (current odds 33/1)
The J.P McManus owned and Gordon Elliott trained bay gelding will more than likely have the National on the agenda this season given his previous strong showings in the race.
Cause Of Causes was one of Elliott’s half-dozen winners at the Cheltenham Festival taking the Cross-Country Chase and he then went on to be the gallant runner-up to One For Arthur in the Grand National.
In his previous attempt at the National fences in 2015 he came home in eighth place behind the ill-fated Many Clouds.
Cause Of Causes certainly has stamina in abundance as he showed when scoring in the four mile Toby Balding Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2015.
Given Gordon Elliott’s training dominance in Ireland you almost feel it is a question of when, not if, he will add another English Grand National to his C.V and Cause Of Causes could emulate Silver Birch at Aintree next April.
Our Duke (current odds 33/1)
Down the years Irish Grand National winners have fared well in the English version and Our Duke was the runaway winner of the Fairyhouse race in 2017.
However, after Our Duke's lethargic display in the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal last weekend, his trainer Jessica Harrington was at a loss as to why he performed so badly.
The Irish Grand National hero could never get competitive on his seasonal debut and trailed in last of the seven finishers in the Grade One contest over three miles.
Harrington said: "Our Duke is sound, he scoped wrong. He has done it once before. They took some bloods from him (on Sunday morning) and we'll take it from there. I just don't know and I'm scratching my head. He was gone after the first fence."
Whilst there is talk of Our Duke having the Cheltenham Gold Cup as his ultimate target in 2018, there is every chance that those plans may be changed to him having an Aintree target instead.
At the age of seven Our Duke still has plenty of options open to him but he certainly does look a Grand National type should he make it there.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*